ifa tunnel: Training Centre for Rescue Organizations
Balsthal, Switzerland – Switzerland not only builds the longest tunnels in the world, but also wants to offer users maximum safety: in Balsthal (SO) and Lungern (OW), training facilities are currently being constructed in which rescue organizations can optimally prepare for deployment in underground transportation systems.
In order to effectively rescue people and fight fires, fire departments must be able to access underground transportation facilities like tunnels, garages or train stations in all conditions. Therefore, emergency response services like fire departments, ambulances and police require comprehensive theoretical training. In addition, the Swiss Federal Office for Roads (ASTRA) had already called for the construction of a practice tunnel for response services in the year 2000 – a consequence of the catastrophic fires in the Tauern and Mont Blanc tunnels.
Over 1000 Meters of Tunnels and Pathways to Practice
In the summer of 2005, ASTRA commissioned the Basellandschaftliche Gebäudeversicherung and the Solothurnische Gebäudeversicherung, as agencies of the inter-cantonal fire department training centre ifa, to build practice facilities for emergency response services as well as develop a comprehensive teaching program for application in underground transportation situations in partnership with the Gasser Felstechnik AG, in the Balsthal (Solothurn Canton) and Lungern (Obwalden Canton) sites.
A fire tunnel is currently being constructed in the Brunig mountain in Lungern. In Balsthal, construction has begun on a combined road and rail tunnel with an integrated training garage.
Both sites will offer a labyrinth of more than 1000 meters, in which all conceivable operations in all types of underground transportation facilities may be practiced: from fires in garages, accidents involving hazardous materials in street tunnels, derailments in rail tunnels, to explosions in underground train stations and shopping passages.
To simulate fires, the ifa relies on environmentally friendly gas-fire technology. The steel
of the mock passenger cars, trucks, coaches and rail cars is heated, and the temperature in the training area rises to 400 degrees Celsius. Although the flames are real, non-toxic training smoke is used to fill the space. This way, the health risks for users, as well as environmental consequences, are reduced to a minimum. The heat, smoke and degree of difficulty can be precisely controlled, so that the trainees are adequately challenged, but not overwhelmed.
A Competence Centre in The Heart of Europe
The test operations are to begin in Lungern in 2008, and in Balsthal in 2009. During the first two years, the main goal of the ifa is to train the fire departments responsible for the Swiss highway and rail tunnels, and to be available for the ambulance, police and other emergency response services. In the medium term, the ifa expects to welcome fire departments from all over Europe.
The training facilities in Balsthal and Lungern will cost about 35 million Swiss Francs and will be financed by the Federation. Infrastructure such as changing rooms, respiratory protection stations, canteens and accommodation will be made available in Balsthal by ifa, and in Lungern by Gasser Felstechnik AG.